San Antonio International Airport 2040 Plan Doubles Terminal Size, Reconfigures Traffic
Feature Illustration: The third of three alternatives presented to City Council for the possible reconstruction and expansion of the terminal system at San Antonio International Airport. Courtesy: COSA.
by Adolfo Pesquera
San Antonio (Bexar County) — The San Antonio International Airport terminal must double in size over the next decade to meet the demands it is projected to face through the year 2040, according to the results of a strategic development study.
Since 2018, the Airport System Development Committee has been working on a plan to identify and address deficiencies at the airport. The recently hired new aviation director, Jesus Saenz Jr., discussed their results with the City Council in B Session on March 3.
No action was taken, however, the director is expected to return in the next few months with a funding plan. Several alternatives were discussed with council last week regarding the terminal facilities and the roadway traffic pattern and Saenz will come back with recommendations on the preferred alternatives. It is anticipated that council will accept a final development plan by November so that the director can begin the funding approval process with the Federal Aviation Administration.
The strategic plan also addresses the need to make capital improvements to the airport runway system. San Antonio International has three runways: 13R-31L, 13L-31R, and 4-22.
The strategic plan proposes that 13R-31L, which is the runway nearest the terminal, be lengthened from its current 8,500 linear feet. It needs to be extended toward the northeast to 10,000 feet, an improvement that would allow the runway to handle additional international flights coming from larger distances.
The terminal as it exists today has many deficiencies. Concourse A and Concourse B have separate security checkpoints and no secure connection between them. They are effectively two separate terminals. In addition, Terminal A systems are obsolete and its concourse is too narrow by modern airport standards; it is 60 feet wide at one section, whereas, the norm is 110 feet.
There is inadequate concession space, which affects revenues and limits offerings to travelers. The baggage handling facility is undersized and the number of gates (23) would be short 12 gates by 2040.
In general, the entire terminal was considered undersized by 13% in 2018. The committee has presented three alternatives that would address some or all of these deficiencies. All three alternatives would expand the number of gates from 23 to either 37 gates for narrow body aircraft, or 32 gates for narrow body and three gates for wide body aircraft.
Concepts for the future redevelopment of the San Antonio International Airport terminal. Courtesy: COSA.
Alternative 1: The existing terminals have vehicular traffic approaching Terminal A first. It is then directed toward Terminal B. Under Alternative 1, a new Terminal C would be constructed next to Terminal B and a new parking garage and ground transportation center would be constructed opposite Terminal C, where it would be aligned alongside the existing parking garage.
Alternative 1 has the least upfront cost, but it would have higher long-term costs. In addition, the terminals would remain decentralized, each with its own security checkpoint. Terminals A and B would undergo limited renovations, and concession space and connectivity would also remain limited.
Alternative 2: In all three plans, there would be a new parking garage and ground transportation center adjacent to the existing parking garage. However, with Alternative 2, the new garage faces a Central Processor that is connected to a new Concourse C and Concourse B. By extension, Concourse B would be connected to Concourse A.
Concourse B would not change, but Concourse A would be completely reconstructed and widened to at least 110 feet.
Saenz described this setup as a “hybrid” central processor that would allow passengers to “move freely between concourses, and the airport would have expanded amenities and have new offerings.”
The downside to Alternative 2 is that the phasing of construction would be more complicated and there would still be a few pedestrian connectivity issues.
Alternative 3: The third concept eliminates Terminal/Concourse B as it is known today. In its place would be a larger Central Processor building located between Concourse A and a new Concourse C. And the gates of Concourse B, now an extension of the Central Processor, would be aligned perpendicular to the Concourses A and C.
The “full central processor,” (as it was described) would have a grand central space with more concessions.
This setup would provide the most efficient freedom of movement between concourses. It would also come with the highest Phase 1 cost and complex phasing. In addition, Terminal A would have to be retained, with minor modifications, until the Central Processor and Concourse C are constructed. Only then would Terminal A undergo the needed major renovations.
The committee found that travelers find driving into and out of the airport a confusing and unpleasant experience. The airport is directly adjacent to US Highway 281 and Loop 410. By comparison, international airports serving Housing and Dallas-Fort Worth have long roadway approaches to their terminals, thus giving drivers adequate time to make decisions.
San Antonio cannot move its freeways. The distance into the terminal cannot change, so other solutions were offered and two alternatives were presented.
Traffic Alternate 1 would create two roundabouts–one located at the intersection of Dee Howard Way and John Saunders, and a second roundabout located at Dee Howard Way and Airport Boulevard. The objective here is the eliminate traffic light signalized intersections to keep vehicles moving and avoid or at least lessen the congestion.
There would still be some short-distance decision/weaving spots, but the plan provides continuous traffic flow.
It was also noticed that the northbound off ramp US 281 into the airport is underutilized. New signage on the expressway would be added to encourage its use.
Traffic Alternate 2 would consolidate inbound traffic on a realigned Airport Boulevard. The US 281 northbound ramp would be lowered to merge with Airport Boulevard.
Instead of two roundabouts, there would be one at Dee Howard Way and John Saunders. This method provides better continuous traffic flow and allows construction with minimal disruption. But it comes with higher cost because of the lowering of the expressway ramp.
Estimates for the improvements to the runway, terminal and roads range up to about $2 billion.
Alternates 1 and 2 for the redesign of the roadways into and out of San Antonio International Airport. Courtesy: COSA.
Adolfo Pesquera (Reporter/Editor) is a veteran news journalist. He has worked for Hearst Corp., American Lawyer Media, News Corp and Freedom Communications. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines across the USA. He is a journalism graduate of UT-RGV. He writes, edits and creates digital pages for VBX.